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They Found Something. Now What?

Monday, October 14, 2013
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Breast Cancer Biopsies Explained with Dr. Jennifer Chalfin Simmons, chief of breast surgery and director of the breast program, Einstein Medical Center Montgomery

It’s the phone call every woman dreads. “We found something on your mammogram and you need to come into the office.” Panic and sadness, disbelief and fear of the unknown may sweep through a woman’s mind.

“Anyone who gets that phone call usually feels out of control and doesn’t know what to do next,” explains Dr. Jennifer Chalfin Simmons, chief of breast surgery and director of the breast cancer program at the new, state-of-the-art Einstein Medical Center Montgomery.

“Having been through it myself, I know that the most difficult time is waiting for information, because you feel so helpless,” says Simmons, who had a biopsy following an abnormal mammogram. No malignancy was found, but the experience stayed with Simmons. “That’s why, at Einstein Montgomery, our goal is to evaluate patients as quickly as possible.”

What happens after a woman receives that phone call?Breast Cancer Biopsies Explained with Dr. Jennifer Chalfin Simmons, chief of breast surgery and director of the breast program, Einstein Medical Center Montgomery

“Our breast nurse navigator, Barbara Heinzmann, schedules the patient for an evaluation with one of our surgeons,” Simmons explains. “We try to see the patient within a day. We speak with the woman, look at her images, do a physical examination and compile the information. If it’s necessary, we’ll do the biopsy right then. It might sound sudden, but getting the ball in motion is a tremendous relief for most patients. It means the ordeal will end sooner.”

Are there different kinds of biopsies?

“Some are guided by ultrasound, some involve a stereotactic technique and others are guided by touch,” explains Simmons. “With rare exception, all biopsies are minimally invasive and done in the office with a needle.”

What is a stereotactic biopsy?

“We generally use it for calcifications, or for things that we can’t feel and are not well seen on ultrasound, but show up on mammogram,” Simmons says. “The patient lies face down on a special table that allows us to image the breast. There is a hole cut out of the table. The breast goes in the hole, then goes into compression – like a mammogram – with paddles that have holes for us to access to the breast. We take images of the breast, identify the abnormality, numb the breast, and biopsy the area. The procedure takes 20 to 30 minutes.”

Is it terrible?

“For most of our patients, the procedure is not the frightening part,” Simmons says. “They are scared about the results of the biopsy, not the biopsy itself. However, our staff is very well trained to help patients cope with the procedure and every part of what they may encounter afterwards. Emotionally supporting our patients is part of the outstanding service that we provide.”

What happens after the biopsy?

“Tissues samples go to the lab and I get the results in day or two,” Simmons says. “I call the patient with the results. If the biopsy is benign, I have that discussion over the phone. If results show breast cancer, I give them the result on the phone but ask them to come to the office within a day for a detailed discussion. That is a conversation that I like to have in person. ”

Next week: Breast Cancer Surgical Treatments: Lumpectomy, Mastectomy & the Controversy Over Prophylactic Double Mastectomies

For more information about Einstein’s advances in breast cancer treatment, go to: http://www.jewishexponent.com/blog/breast-cancer-breakthrough and http://www.jewishexponent.com/blog/straight-talk-on-mammograms

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